Dismissed by the cognoscenti but adored by the masses.
Daryl Easlea 2009-03-12
Hearsay will always be Alexander O'Neal high-water mark. Arguably, it was producers' Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis' as well – shiny, clunking machine-driven soul with strong melodies and a new take on traditional soul male supremacy. Having all been together in the Time and schooled as peers of Prince, Hearsay was arguably the best album the fabled group never made, as former members of the group, Jerome Benton (Prince's sidekick in Under The Cherry Moon) and Jellybean Johnson are also present.
The album, O'Neal's second, was one of the first major soul successes on CD. Its loose concept; trying to woo a lady set against the backdrop of a party – ''I say this is Alexander O'Neal's Party, and man you got to party'' – allowed Jam and Lewis to work overtime. 11 party guests chatter and there is a general level of hubbub around every track.
There is hardly any filler whatsoever. Fake, Criticize and Hearsay were all massive hits. While The Lovers and opener What Can I Say To Make You Love Me, with its initial lines, ''I didn’t write the book of love, but I read from it every day'' demonstrate the album's flash and hubris.
O'Neal had it all going for him, briefly. It commenced his special relationship with the UK, where he still holds the record for an African-American performer selling out six straight nights at Wembley Arena. To underline this British support, the BBC, Tony Blackburn and legendary soul DJ Steve Walsh all get sleeve credits.
Hearsay is very much of its time, but that doesn't mean it has dated. It sounds as fresh now as it did then. Had it been 20 years earlier, Alexander O'Neal would have been compared to Otis Redding. As it was, he was dismissed by the cognoscenti but adored by the masses.